Having paid no attention to the advance promotion I wasn’t sure what to expect from Big Hero 6. While it doesn’t rise to Pixar levels of emotional involvement, it’s one of Disney’s best films in a very long time. (Scratch that – several kids in the audience were crying when the film ended but all of them seemed to enjoy it nonetheless.) Big Hero 6 is an origin story film, leaving it with a vaguely unsettled feel. It reminded me of The Incredibles, which felt more like a completed tale. The group I was with disagreed, using the standard disclaimer that it’s a Disney film for children. Viewed solely as a coming of age story for it’s lead, Hiro Hamada, it’s fairly faultless. I think my issue involved how many characters weren’t fully developed. While they were strong on screen, we didn’t know who they were or where they came from as the narrative focused on Hiro and his adversaries. If the film had stayed in that pocket, and not expanded on the side-character Fred, Big Hero 6 might have read differently.
Visually, Big Hero 6 is stunning. Everyone involved in this project deserves praise from the character conceptions to the world building. The city of San Fransokyo is a futuristic wonderland I wanted to stay in. The design perfectly encapsulated San Francisco in beautifully small ways while placing it firmly in a futuristic and alien reality. (For one thing, the streets were very, very clean.) Hiro’s Victorian home / business was laid out impeccably. The sideways slant of the streets outside his window, the hard landing of speeding cars on the hills, all of it was a love letter to a unique American city. Hiro’s Apple-esque garage workshop – I could rave about the art design for the rest of this post. (The hidden nods!) So let’s leave it.
There is no romantic love interest in Big Hero 6. This is a movie without a girl-trophy being awarded at the end. There are female characters, all of whom are strong and compelling in different ways. Hiro develops romantic feelings for none of them and none of them develop romantic feelings for him. While one could ship any number of pairings from the cast, Big Hero 6 allows it’s characters to interact as equals. Pick your deity and thank them. One of the kids I took to the film said “I liked how the girls got to do things and didn’t have to run around trying to kiss anyone.” Me too, kid. Me too.
Diversity is either in the source material (I am unfamiliar with the comic series) or was a conscious choice of the production team. There’s a big black goof with dreadlocks (Wasabi), the slight and white slacker tribute to Jason Mewes (Fred), multiple asian characters (an early scene borders on questionable) and a possibly latina, possibly valley girl genius (Honey Lemon). None of the characters read as an ethnic stereotype. Wasabi is not “the black one” and GoGo is not “the brainy Asian one”. The film celebrates both ability and character. The villain, when revealed, is driven by recognizable human emotions. I can’t recall the last time I so wanted to stay in an animated world. Maya Rudolph was brilliant as Hiro’s Aunt Cass. (If Disney spun off a series that followed Aunt Cass through her mundane daily routine I would watch the beejeezus out of it.) Overall, this is a great kid’s film that just misses the mark for full adult fandom.
*This review first appeared at Love In The Margins.